OAK RIDGE, Tenn. – Almost 25 years ago, when the former Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant sat shuttered with dilapidated, contaminated buildings, its future as an economic and recreational hub was hard to imagine. Now, with cleanup complete, that transformation has become a reality.
With the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant closing permanently in 1987, DOE leaders and their contractor counterparts charted the next steps for the site. The site’s closure impacted local employment, and the buildings needed remediation.
The solution was a first-of-a-kind approach within the DOE complex. Oak Ridge launched efforts to remove environmental and structural hazards, and went a step further by transitioning the site into an industrial park for private companies. The twofold strategy was designed to enhance safety and provide new economic opportunities for the area.
In 1996, DOE leadership in Oak Ridge began a reindustrialization process to find new purposes for land and infrastructure that no longer served government missions.
As this process began, the site was renamed the East Tennessee Technology Park (ETTP) to reflect its new vision. Employees identified buildings that could be reused by private companies, and they began taking down those that were hazardous or unneeded. Reindustrialization provided instant infrastructure for the community to attract new industry and jobs.
“Transferring land and infrastructure and finding new purposes for a portion of these facilities has saved considerable taxpayer dollars and promotes economic growth,” said Dave Adler, director of the Oak Ridge Office of EM (OREM) quality and mission support division. “We’ve been very successful at simultaneously transferring land as cleanup is completed in an area, which has provided new economic opportunities to the community sooner.”
To date, 14 facilities and nearly 1,300 acres of land have been transferred for economic development, with another 600 acres slated for economic development in the years ahead. Approximately 20 businesses are located at the site, and Coqui Radio Pharmaceuticals Corp. announced last year that it will build a medical isotope production facility at ETTP.
That company will focus on the production of molybdenum-99 isotopes, the most widely used medical isotope in the world. Currently, there is no production source for the isotope in the U.S. It is used in 18 million medical procedures a year in the U.S., aiding in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and other diseases.
The company will build the facility at ETTP, and expects to begin operations there in 2025, providing more than 200 high-paying jobs.
More than 3,400 acres of land at ETTP have been designated for conservation. These areas provide a habitat for wildlife and offer hiking trails, bike paths, and other activities for the public.
About 100 acres have been set aside for historic preservation. OREM has constructed the K-25 History Center, and it will build another facility in coming years to replicate a unit of the former K-25 Building. Additionally, the K-25 footprint has become part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. These efforts will attract visitors and educate people about the site’s history and impact.
The landscape has changed dramatically since OREM created a vision for the site decades ago. Towering, contaminated structures have given way to grassy fields, solar arrays, and newly constructed educational facilities.
“This site spent decades providing critical support to the country as a uranium enrichment plant,” said Kevin Ironside, reindustrialization manager for OREM cleanup contractor UCOR. “Now, it has a new purpose and continues to be a valuable economic as well as recreational asset for the region.”